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Central Asia in Focus: September 13, 2022

KYRGYZSTAN — Protests in Osh city after the death of for 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova, who was kidnapped and killed in a suspected “bride kidnapping”. Photo: Dastan Umotbai, RFE/RL.

What’s Happening in the Region

Adding Insult to Injury in Kyrgyz Woman’s Murder

On April 5, 2021, Aizada Kanatbekova was kidnapped by six men in the middle of the day in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek.

People alerted police immediately after Kanatbekova was kidnapped. Street cameras recorded the crime and the license plates of the kidnappers’ two cars.

Kanatbekova’s mother found out and called the police who told her she should be happy and would soon be dancing at her daughter’s wedding.

Two days later Aizada’s body and that of one of her abductors were found dead in a car outside Bishkek.

The dead man in the car had stalked Kanatbekova for months and intended to make her a victim of Ala-Kachuu, or bride kidnapping, a criminal offense in Kyrgyzstan that some still believe is part of Kyrgyz tradition.

The abductor strangled Aizada, then killed himself with a knife.

The five men who helped kidnap Kanatbekova were apprehended. They were only charged with aiding in a kidnapping since they left before Aizada’s stalker killed her, then himself.

The five accomplices were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from six to seven years, but they were still liable for paying damages.

On September 6, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court upheld the decision of two lower courts that each of the five accomplices had to pay Kanatbekova’s mother 20,000 som, a bit less than $250.

Well-known Kyrgyz attorney Nurbek Toktakunov posted on his Facebook page that the court made a decision that “the more accomplices, the less compensation.”

Toktakunov is representing Kanatbekova’s mother and said they had asked for 100,000 som ($1,250) each as compensation from the five accomplices.

Toktakunov said the law provides that the maximum an individual criminal can be obligated to pay is 100,000 som ($1,250) as compensation and objected to the interpretation of three courts that 100,000 som was the maximum no matter how many people were convicted of involvement.

Why It’s Important: Kyrgyz authorities continue to say they will get tough on gender-based violence, and they have strengthened some laws related to bride kidnapping and gender violence, but social attitudes have not changed and clearly a stronger message needs to be sent.

It is true the five men involved in the kidnapping were given prison sentences and fines of $250, a little more than an average monthly salary. A fine of one month’s salary doesn’t send a strong message.

The One-Sided Investigation in Karakalpakstan

The investigation into the violence in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan region in July that left 21 people dead and more than 240 wounded continues, but it’s become clear the probe is focusing solely on the unarmed protesters.

The cause of the protests was proposed amendments to the constitution that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its nominal sovereignty and right to secede from Uzbekistan.

Uzbek authorities formed a 14-member commission to find out why a large but peaceful protest in the regional capital Nukus turned violent, but there is no information that the commission is looking at the use of force by police and security forces.

Some of the commission’s members have posted about the investigation on Twitter.

All the information posted is about protesters being questioned, or that detained protesters have access to lawyers and have no complaints about the conditions of their confinement.

Bobur Bekmurodov is a deputy in Uzbekistan’s parliament and a commission member. He posted about the alleged organizer of the protesters, Dauletmurod Tazhimuratov, being questioned by commission members.

Bekmurodov wrote that Tazhimuratov said “there was no torture or pressure against him during the investigation and in the detention centre,” and “he stated that he had no objection to the food quality and other conditions.”

In a separate tweet, Bekmurodov included a photo of Tazhimuratov’s questioning, but all that can be seen is the back of someone’s head and three members of the commission.”

Gulnoz Mamarasulova, a social activist, according to her Twitter account, is also a member of the commission and she posted about checking the conditions of people being detained and meeting with lawyers of the accused.

Why It’s Important: The problem is the investigation appears to be focused solely on protesters.

The information posted by commission members never refers to anyone from law enforcement or local officials being questioned, though it is clear from videos and photographs that protesters were unarmed, and some suffered wounds from some sort of large projectiles fired at them by security forces.

What weapons were security forces using, and who gave the order to fire on protesters does not appear to be part of the commission’s investigation.

If no one in Uzbekistan’s law enforcement agencies is brought to justice for the violence in Karakalpakstan, it will be difficult for anyone to believe justice was served by the commission’s investigation.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at how Russia’s war on Ukraine and the chauvinist and irredentist statements of some Russian officials have been a catalyst for people from Central Asia to consider the legacy of Russian colonization.

This week’s guests are:

Marat and Kassymbekova are authors of the article Time to Question Russia’s Imperial Innocence and Junisbai wrote this inspired thread on Twitter on personal experience as a Kazakh growing up in the USSR.

What I’m Following

Religious Leaders Meeting in Kazakhstan

Pope Francis will be among the top clerics representing various faiths from around the world who are attending the September 14-15 Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Summit in Samarkand

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Summit in Samarkand is on September 15-16.

The leaders of member states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China, Russia, India, and Pakistan will be there along with the leaders of observer countries Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia along with special guests, the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkmenistan.

The summit is the side event, and I’ll be watching connectivity agreements on the sidelines as many of these countries move to open new trade routes.

Fact of the Week

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, originally called the Shanghai Five, was formed in Shanghai on April 26-27, 1996, by the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and China with the purpose of removing military forces away from the Commonwealth of Independent States-Chinese border.

In 2001, Uzbekistan was admitted, and the group changed their name to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.